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Most of the recipes I've seen for Chicken Salad simply call for "cooked chicken". ...okay, but how? Should I bake it? Blanch it? Sautee it? Grill it?

What is the preferred way to cook Chicken Breasts prior to use in Chicken Salad?

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will the chicken be chopped? Cubed? Shredded? – justkt Dec 1 '10 at 16:56
Cubed I believe. – Daniel Bingham Dec 1 '10 at 16:57
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It really depends on the texture you are looking for in your finished product. If you want a chunky chicken salad then bake your chicken breasts seasoned or not, I season mine, and then cube them. If you want something a little more exciting pan grill the breasts to the point of a little char and then dice. If you want your chicken to be flavorless and get all of your flavor from the mix you are tossing your chicken into, boil it or put it in a slow cooker if you are cooking up a big batch.

It all really comes down to how you like to eat your chicken salad, and more importantly how pretty you want it to look in your serving method, because a cajun blackened chicken salad sandwich can look down right homely. I say try them all until you fall in love with one temporarily and when that has lost its passion try a different version.

Also as a side note if I am preparing it for me and not for someone else, so it doesn't have to be all white and pretty, I use thighs instead of breasts since they are more forgiving and generally cheaper. If I am not just breaking down a whole chicken and using the leftovers.

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+1 for frugality. Using thighs is a great idea. The dark meat is more flavorful and moist, too! – Mrs. Garden Dec 1 '10 at 18:39
re: boiling & slow cooker -- the slow cooker isn't hot enough to kill surface bacteria, and with boiling you risk overcooking. I explain an alternative in How do you poach chicken?. You can then strip the bones out, let it cook, and then dice up. (if you skip the cooking, it'll shread) – Joe Dec 2 '10 at 14:27
I always boil my chicken when I am making bbq chicken for sandwiches. I will have to check out your article. Good advice on the slow cooker but a query since I cook a lot of other meats in the slow cooker why would that not also be problematic? – Varuuknahl Dec 2 '10 at 16:41
Re: "blackened chicken...homely" and "all white and pretty" -- Actually, I prefer a little blackening in my chicken. In my mind, plain white (i.e. when boiled) means "no flavor". – keithjgrant Mar 2 '11 at 21:59

I prefer simmering a whole bird to get shredded chicken, like Satanicpuppy. That should take an hour or two to accomplish.

For a chicken salad that has cubed pieces, I would saute or grill a whole breast, then cut it up afterwards. You can bake it, but it takes longer than the former methods. You can also slice it up beforehand and saute it- that is a much faster option than any other. Just make sure you season the breasts; they will be virtually flavorless otherwise, and make your salad dull. I'd use garlic powder, salt, freshly-ground pepper, and saute it in butter.

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I usually do a whole small chicken in a pot with the traditional herbs, onions, celery, etc. Cook it slow until it falls off the bone, strain it, and let it cool before picking the meat off.

That being said, I've gotten perfectly decent results using store bought rotisserie chickens.

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Roasting and pan-frying provide the most intense chicken flavor and make the tastiest chicken salad. Both have the added advantage of some browned scrapings to add to the savory flavor of the salad.

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